Raw Foods are Making a Comeback, and There’s Good Reason
Hundreds of thousands of years ago, humans discovered the art of cooking and everything got a lot better, right? Naturally, cooking food came in tandem with the mastery of fire – which, according to Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham, made modern humans what we are today. There is much debate about exactly when humans started cooking – while Wrangham concludes it was around 790,000 to 2.6 million years ago, hard evidence shows the first cooking hearths around 250,000 years ago, and still others think it was closer to 100,000 at the beginning of the last Ice Age, when warm food presumably made for warm bodies. Regardless, at some point in our last major phases of evolution, cooking became an integrated part of human existence. There’s nothing like a home-cooked meal. Preparing food over a hot stove/oven and gathering around the table with loved ones is a ritual that results in some of a person’s fondest memories and happiest taste buds. Yet, for some modern food and nutrition enthusiasts, it’s the uncooked food that is most enticing, most comforting, and most beneficial. Consuming a raw food, mainly a primarily vegan diet, has emerged as a hot trend with health-conscious food perfectionists – those who want to optimize their diet to lose weight, treat an ailment, or simply feel their very best.
What are raw foods?
When we think of raw food, we often think of salads, a plate of veggies and dip, maybe even guacamole if we’re thinking outside the box – not the most exciting dishes, though a raw eater would be happy with these choices. The raw lifestyle has so many more options, however, and innovative minds have made dining without cooking a culinary experience to rival all others. There are now raw food restaurants, raw food cookbooks, and raw food chefs to cater to the raw community and those on the periphery wondering what the big raw deal is. Allay Magazine recently interviewed Kate Magic, a raw food expert and chef from the UK, who has been eating raw for more than two decades. An early adopter of the raw revolution, the motivation that drew Kate to eschew cooked food and opt for the old school prehistoric way of eating was simply how it made her feel. “It always felt right to me,” she says. “I never felt comfortable eating the kinds of foods I was brought up on. Raw food made me feel more at home in my body.” Magic officially identified as a raw food eater in 1993, and hasn’t looked back. She’s gone on to have her own line of raw food cookbooks, is a renowned speaker on all things raw, and teaches classes on how to make delicious, wholesome raw dishes around the UK and the world. She recently taught at a retreat in Costa Rica, Epic Living Retreats, with 10 days of yoga and raw cooking for beginner, advanced, and “superstar” students. Eating raw, says Magic, is focused on the long-term impact of what we put in our bellies. “It has always interested me that people think about taste and presentation – that experience lasts a short time. How the food makes you feel is what lasts, whether it’s hours or years afterward.”
Getting the most out of the food we eat
In order to be considered raw, a particular food can’t have been cooked higher than 118 degrees – much lower than your average “preheat at 350” cookbook instructions. But, this means not all raw food has to be eaten cold. The trick is to keep its temperature low enough to preserve its “rawness.” Cooking breaks down enzymes, vitamins, and other nutrients in food, leaving fewer of these nutrients for the body to utilize for all its functions. “When you cook it, you kill it,” the saying goes. Eating food raw keeps these nutrients intact, something that raw food experts say optimizes the food’s nutritional value. In this way, it can optimize our health and wellbeing. What are the health benefits of eating raw? “Everything,” says Magic. “That’s why it’s so popular and getting more popular all the time. It works on all levels – we are what we eat.” Foods like dairy products, meat, and gluten can be hard on the body and difficult to digest. Raw food, however, is “food that the body can work with,” says Magic. The body doesn’t have to work so hard to break it down, making it something that the body will eventually crave. “If you’re eating simple plant foods, the body can extract what it needs and work more efficiently,” says Magic. Raw eating is also known as eating clean – eating food in its most natural state, or as close to that as possible. People who have started eating raw, clean foods report that common health programs like migraines and digestive troubles simply vanish. This even includes mental health issues like anxiety and depression. “One of the most common things people say when they go raw is that they feel happier,” says Magic. “It’s so common for people to be in a fog – to say, ‘I forget things, I feel tired all the time.’ When you start eating clean, that starts to disappear.”
The raw food palette – what are the options?
Raw food has come a long way since Kate Magic started following the diet. There weren’t a lot of fancy dishes back in 1993. “When I first started I would just eat a carrot,” she says. “I was really happy just eating a carrot.” Since raw meat isn’t all that safe or tasty, most people who eat raw are vegan, though some are vegetarian. Raw ghee, eggs, butter, and cheese are all options for vegetarian eaters (although raw butter and milk is illegal to sell in the U.S.) If eating animal products, Magic said that organic, steroid- and hormone-free products are best. “It’s most important where it’s sourced,” she says. While many raw foodists find that eating a simple salad is satisfying in itself, there are seemingly limitless possibilities for raw food now. The upswing of the raw food trend can be attributed largely to individuals striving for better health, but the influence and appeal of fancy raw specialty foods can’t be ignored. Years ago, pasta-like dishes were unheard of – a raw eater just had to go without. Now they can choose from dishes like lasagna made with a walnut-miso “meat” and “cheese” made from raw nuts, or spaghetti made with spiralized zucchini “noodles” or kelp noodles, sun dried tomatoes, and olive oil – good imitations of Italian comfort food. Options like these have made it all the more appealing to go raw, and raw food eaters are just as much foodies as those who eat traditionally cooked food. “Raw eating is like a new fad cuisine,” Magic says. “Years ago it was Thai, then it was Japanese. Now it’s like, OK now we’ve eaten all the foods around the world – what do we do now? With raw food, we can cherry pick and take all the best dishes of the world. The flavors are more fresh and more alive – there is so much potential – anything you could think of eating you can come up with a way to eat it raw.” Magic loves to make magic in the kitchen. One of her most popular dishes is her Thai Yellow Curry. In this deliciously sunny recipe she uses yellow peppers, turmeric, and yellow thai curry paste along with other spices to pack an Indian-flavored punch. “If I have the right spices I can get the desired flavors,” she says. In the realm of desserts, raw foodists are in now way deprived. Sweet treats like cakes made with raw cacao enrich raw meals with a dessert course. “I make cakes for people and they say it’s the best cake they’ve ever eaten,” Magic says. “They don’t say it’s the healthiest cake they’ve ever eaten.” Recipe: Sexy Stuffed Avocado Recipe: Chocolate Disco Smoothie
Making the raw diet easier to chew
Giving up cooked food is something that most people eating that way their entire lives would have a hard time with. There is a lot of sentimentality surrounding home-cooked food. But Magic says the change doesn’t have to be so dramatic – an all-or-nothing approach isn’t required to benefit from eating raw foods. She suggests starting by gradually adding more raw foods in the diet – like green juice and super foods. Green juices made with raw fruits and veggies start the body’s detoxification and cleansing mechanisms. Superfoods like maca, cacao, bee pollen, and algae can be added to just about any food, from salad to cereal or a plate of French fries. Kale chips, raw chocolate, and kombucha are three “gateway” raw foods that Magic recommends for those looking to try raw eating. Adding a salad here and there and popping more raw veggies and nuts couldn’t hurt, either. Once a person starts eating raw, they may find it addictive – the body literally starts craving those foods because they make it feel good. “The body has intelligence and when you start giving your body what it really needs, it starts asking for that,” Magic says. For more information about raw eating and the clean food lifestyle, visit Kate Magic’s website, Kate’s Magic Bubble, and her video site, Raw Magic Academy.